Becker and Fagen, with producer Gary Katz (who may be their only mortal friend), know what they want to hear, and get it.
They work at these pursuits not as a means to an end, to improve their musical facilities, as much as to bask in a mania of superiority. like mad scientists. Furthermore, they could sit back and talk about the mechanical stuff for hours and fool journalists into thinking they were getting good interviews, while actually revealing nothing.
What Steely Dan is actually about is, if you haven’t already figured it out long since, the antithesis of Summer of Love optimism in Winter of your Discontent nihilism. All of the icons we put our rock faith in are revealed here as baselsss and futile. The young love that pop prized becomes vampirism (“Dirty Work”) or lure kicks (“Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”). Nostalgia is unrelieved hysteria (“My Old School,” “Doctor Wu”), but the future is worse (“Chain Lightning,” “Sign In Stranger”). Occasionally it becomes possible to fight back (“Black Friday”). with results either futile or disasterous—the only way out is fantasy escape (“Any World That I’m Welcome To”). All of this gruesomeness is scrupulously reported by a persona whose emotion circuits seem to have been burned out long since. The only time compassion is evidenced is when the subject has gambled everything and lost (“Do It Again,” “Charlie Freak”) or is the victim of a collossal, impersonal catastrophe (“King of the World”).
As they get better at pure venom, their critics refer more to their crypticism; as Dan’s vision grows more aciotic, fewer observers can face it. Now they can write songs that shouldn’t even permit themselves to be heard, like “The Royal Scam.” Beneath a queasy redundancy in the music, the lyrics begin to take on the form of an immense, inescapable paranois parable, based on the systematic quashing of Puerto Rican immigrants but applying equally to us all. Eventually the circular plot dissolves in a horrifying impression of watchful unidentifiables who are so far ahead of you they control by proxy and toy with free will.
But even that’s not enough for Steely Dan. They won’t quit until they’ve found the perfect formula for unromantic,
unresponsive. uninvolved You.